March 15, 1864: A “minor” bombardment of Fort Sumter to destroy the East Three Gun Battery

Early on March 15, 1864, Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Elliott reported “all quiet this morning.”  That report proved premature.  Later that evening, Elliott amended that report:

I have the honor to report that the enemy opened on cribwork on east angle at 10:30 a.m., firing 143 shots from two 100-pounders at middle battery; one 200-pounder and one 30-pounder Parrott at Gregg; 100 shots struck, cutting away some portion of the crib-work; 5 men were wounded; non dangerously; 1 negro dangerously.  Firing ceased at sunset.

John Johnson described this brief bombardment in his post-war history, The Defense of Charleston Harbor:

The 15th day of March was signalized by a battering fire of 143 shots directed at the east angle of the fort; and this was the occasion of it: The three armed casemates in this quarter were but poorly protected by their scarp-wall, it having been much damaged in places by both the land and the naval fire.  The wall had been strengthened during the winter by a cribwork or grillage on the exterior, ballasted with débris and adding ten feet to its thickness.  The material used for the lower coursing was pine timber; for the upper, including the embrasures, palmetto.  This work had been prosecuted with as much secrecy as possible, owing to the fact of its being discoverable by the monitors in their most advanced position off the eastern angle.  It had no sooner been finished than the discovery was made.  The reconnoitering monitor signalled to the batteries of Morris Island, and they opened with their heavy rifles a slant fire upon the extreme right of the structure, where it was built up highest after the manner of a flanking traverse.  But although they splintered and partly demolished it, they did no real damage to the main work, which the traverse was designed to protect.

The cribwork Johnson mentioned was that protecting the original Three-Gun Battery.


While the damage did not expose the battery itself, there was some concern for the service magazine.  A shell exploded outside the magazine entrance.  With smoke rising out of the magazine, fear was another fire would break out.  Engineer John H. Houston and twelve men entered the magazine and removed all powder.  Any disaster was thus averted.

The artist Conrad Wise Chapman captured the bombardment on canvas (which Daily Observations of the Civil War has posted today). Chapman indicated a shell would fly over about every five minutes or so.

The following morning, Federal firing resumed briefly then ceased.  Elliott included names of the wounded from the bombardment later on March 16.

The wounded yesterday were William Scarborough, Company D, Twenty-first South Carolina Volunteers, severe fracture clavicle and humerus; Solomon Higgins, Chaplain Freeman, and J.F. Wilkes, slightly; 1 negro, property of Caleb Caker, severely.

Likely the slave owner was Caleb Coker.   He, along with his brothers Charles and Cumberland did business in Charleston as “Coker & Brother” or “Coker & Sons.”

So once again Fort Sumter suffered through what would be rated as a “heavy” bombardment elsewhere in the Civil War.  But March 15 was just another “minor” bombardment.  The main result of those 143 shells fired were improvements in the defenses.  The more the Federals shelled, the more the Confederates built up.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, pages 197; John Johnson, The Defense of Charleston Harbor: Including Fort Sumter and the Adjacent Islands, 1863-1865, Walker, Evans & Cogswell Company, 1890, pages 202-4.)


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